Major tourism projects need local support to ease housing crisis: Evan Hall

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney. Paris Hawken
Camera IconMargaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney. Paris Hawken Credit: Paris Hawken

WA tourism boss Evan Hall has urged the region to get behind resort projects for the sake of the region’s housing crisis.

Speaking to the Times, the WA Tourism Council chief executive said investors were antsy about putting money into new upmarket tourism accommodation due to public backlash as well as State Government red tape.

Mr Hall said visitors were crying out for resort-style lodgings and he believed the rise of Airbnb — identified as a key contributor to the lack of rental homes across the region — could be countered by more major hotels.

“It is effectively pushing out residents,” he said.

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“We don’t think that’s sustainable. It’s certainly not our vision for tourism in WA and certainly not in Margaret River.”

Mr Hall said the numbers showed many West Australians headed overseas to get the resort experience they couldn’t find in their own backyards.

“It’s shocking, really,” Mr Hall said.

“We’re concerned the really good investors … are a bit put off and not even applying in the first place.

“When you’ve got less investment across the State than the Northern Territory, you know you’re in trouble.”

Other pundits were less confident major hotels would diminish Airbnb’s market take.

Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association chief executive Sharna Kearney said the picture was more complicated because some Airbnb-type listings were geared towards high-end visitors as well.

“It is often argued that a reduction in the demand for holiday homes equates to an increase in long-term rental stock, but in practice the equation is not that simple,” she said.

“Owners wouldn’t necessarily convert them to long-term accommodation in the face of decreasing demand.

“The solution to affordable long-term accommodation in our region is multi-pronged, and includes the provision of dedicated worker accommodation.”

Airbnb operator and former DevelopmentWA committee member Reg Gillard told the Times he was doubtful major high-end projects would stop people wanting private short stays.

“I see it being more high-end, short-term, two or three nights, and expensive in contrast to the existing Airbnb offerings,” he said.

“I doubt that families will be attracted to that proposition.”

Mr Gillard said more hospitality venues associated with major developments could lure punters, even if not for overnight stays.

Just Home Margaret River program manager Galatee Underwood said Mr Hall’s suggestion was “far fetched”.

“In the unlikely situation that it did have any positive impact, it would still only be a Band-Aid solution and would not address the systemic issues causing the housing crisis in the shire — low vacancy rates, high rental costs and high population growth.”

Ms Underwood said immediate State and local government investment in social and affordable housing was needed, along with further regulation of holiday homes.

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